So you may have gotten an e-mail, a phone call, or a text message from your student at Gonzaga letting you know how much they miss you. You may have gotten a message that even tells you they’re feeling a little lonely without the family and friends from back home. There are probably even a few of you that have had your student call and tell you they can’t make it and you need to come pick them up. Homesickness, at whatever level your student is experiencing, is a pretty typical and natural response to leaving for college. Whether they’re calling you to talk about it or not all students have some adjusting to do as they venture out on their own for the first time.
It may be best for you to use some tough love in helping them transition. We know you love your son/daughter. It’s more likely than not that they know it too. If they call with concerns about how they’re doing at college be supportive and affirming. Let them know you believe in them and that you think they’re capable of overcoming these challenges – that’s the love part. Here comes the tough part – they may want to talk about coming home or throwing in the towel. You don’t want to close the door on them, but you do want to challenge them. Encourage them to stay the weekend instead of coming home. Reassure them that if they want to make connections at college they’ve got to put in the time. Remind them that everything that’s really worth it requires some work.
If they say “I don’t have any friends,” what they really mean is everyone seems different and they don’t know how to connect. It’s a new environment and making successful social connections will take some trial and error. Challenge them to make an extra effort and let them know it’s ok if it doesn’t work out the first time.
If they say “It’s too hard and I can’t cut it,” what they really mean is it’s more difficult than they expected. High school might have been really easy for them, or maybe they just never had to try that hard. College is a different experience and it requires as much time out of the classroom as it does in the classroom. Challenge them to put in extra time at the library or to use resources they maybe hadn’t in the past; like a study group.
If they say, “I’m homesick,” what they really mean is they’re worried about how they’re going to be successful when all the support systems they had before are now so far away. Usually the farther away the support system the more intensely the student may feel this. Your student needs to develop new methods of finding support and to be reassured that you’re still there for them over the many miles. Gonzaga has an extensive network of support resources: residence life, student activities, student government, university ministry and so many more. There are people on campus that can be there for your student; encourage them to reach out and make that initial connection. The hardest part for us is often identifying who needs that extra support. You can help them to make it through their first semester – it’s the biggest hurdle for nascent adults in higher education.
As a final note: when in doubt, send cookies. Nothing makes a person feel more at home or more loved than baked goods.